Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Report: Seibu Lions add foreign imports Castillo and Wagner


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced on Tuesday afternoon that they added two import pitchers to their roster. They are Fabio Castillo and Neil Wagner.

Castillo, who will be 29 in February, has mostly been a career minor leaguer with stints in the organizations of the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.

Most recently he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and was added to the 40-man roster in June to protect him from going to any team overseas when he drew interest. The Lions could have been one of those teams interested in him and may have signed a target they've been wanting for awhile. One week after Castillo's promotion, the Lions signed Stephen Fife as a 6th starter.

When the rosters expanded, Castillo made his MLB debut on September 2 where he retired four consecutive batters. On the following night, he allowed two runs on three hits and couldn't retire a batter, leaving his MLB career with two games played.

In 22 games (16 starts) with the AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City, he went 4-8 with a 4.27 ERA, 85 strikeouts against 31 walks. Castillo spent 2016 with the Hanwha Eagles of KBO. He went 7-4 in 20 games (15 starts) with a 6.64 ERA through 84 IP where he had 60 strikeouts.
 
"I am very pleased to have a contract with Saitama Seibu Lions," Castillo said in a statement. "I believe this team has the strength to win the Japanese Series championship in the 2018 season. I will see you all at the Met Life Dome."

Castillo is likely to be a back end starter, where the Lions hope to solidify a rotation that has Yusei Kikuchi, Ken Togame, Brian Wolfe and Shinsaburo Tawata. He was assigned No. 47.  

Wagner, who will be 34 at the start of 2018, has not pitched in MLB since 2014. He major league debut was in 2011 with the Oakland Athletics where he appeared in six games. Wagner saw significant playing time in 2013 with the Toronto Blue Jays, but fell out of favor in 2014 and had Tommy John surgery. 

Most recently, Wagner has been in the minor with the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets, where he split the 2017 season between both organizations. In a combined season at AAA, Wagner went 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 54.1 innings out of the bullpen to go with 52 strikeouts. 

"I'm very excited to be a member of Saitama Seibu Lions," Wagner said in a statement. "Through the 2018 season, I promise to do my best to contribute as much as possible to exciting victories." 

Wagner will likely come out of the bullpen where the Lions hope he can be a setup man. The Lions have several middle relief options including Tomomi Takahashi, Shota Takekuma, Katsunori Hirai and Tatsuya Oishi to provide a bridge to closer Tatsushi Masuda. He was assigned No. 12. 

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The Lions made multiple jersey number changes and also assigned numbers for their 2017 draft picks. Here are the numbers and changes: 

Changes: 

Chun-Lin Kuo goes from 12 to 69

Takuya Toyoda goes from 19 to 49

Tadasuke Minamikawa goes from 36 to 59

Daichi Mizuguchi goes from 00 to 0

Shuta Tonosaki goes from 44 to 5

Yuji Kaneko goes from 2 to 8

Fumikazu Kimura goes from 51 to 9

Draft pick numbers:

1st round pick P Hiromasa Saito will wear 19

2nd round pick OF Manaya Nishikawa will wear 51

3rd round pick P Sho Ito will wear 36

4th round pick P Kaima Taira will wear 61

5th round pick P Kaito Yoza will wear 31

6th round pick Ryusei Tsunashima will wear 63

1st ikusei pick Wataru Takagi will wear 121

2nd ikusei pick Masato Saito will wear 122

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

By picking the Angels, Ohtani can write his own story, legacy


In a sweepstakes that went beyond money, one MLB team came out alive in a free for all battle royale. On Friday, Shohei Ohtani picked the Los Angeles Angels as his team.

At first, it wasn't about who Ohtani chose, but who didn't make the first cut. All 30 teams gave a pitch and offer to him, where he considered each of them carefully. The Angels were finalists with the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants. 

Ohtani spurned offers from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox on first glance, which drew quite a commotion. Why would he ignore two of the bigger market teams? It's simple: Expectations.

One thing we here at Graveyard Baseball knew is that money would mean nothing and it was all about the opportunity. We knew the team that would be more open to letting him hit would give him a shot. Ohtani is a smart individual who speaks with intelligence with interviews and thought out his plan.

If he were hitting .200 with the Yankees or Red Sox after three months, the media and fans would be clamoring for his head and saying to end the experiment. With a smaller market team, he can be anonymous and the expectations won't be sky high immediately. Playing the American League made the most sense to us knowing he can DH on the side, which is why we were perplexed that the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers and Padres were even finalists as National League teams.

Ohtani did not want to be in the shadow of another player from Japan. While no player is alike, fans and media will always make irrational comparisons as it is human nature to do so. If he were to go to Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki will be talked about. Going to the Texas Rangers would draw comparisons to his Fighters' predecessor Yu Darvish.

Only three Japanese born players have put on an Angels uniform. They are P Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1997-2001), Hideki Matsui (2010), who was near the end of his player career, and Hisanori Takahashi (2011-2012). Just eliminating the finalist teams based on the designated hitter and NPB alone made the Angels the most logical candidate.

None of us knew exactly what he wanted besides not money, but the Angels have given him something he can't refuse. While Anaheim and Southern California is in a "big market" compared to others, it's in the shadow of the Dodgers and always plays second fiddle.

The LA media will not shine the spotlight on the Angels unless they're winning, which will give an under the radar silent treatment compared to other teams in the area including the Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers and college USC Trojans which draw more attention.

General Manager Billy Eppler said Ohtani will not be starting in the outfield immediately and will likely DH on the few days he doesn't pitch as he joins the rotation in Anaheim. Playing alongside Mike Trout obviously won't hurt as that duo alone is intriguing.

Manager (kantoku) Mike Scioscia has been a traditionalist, but even he will have to buck his trend when using Ohtani in order to fulfill the promises.

By picking up Ohtani, the economy for the Angels already takes a boost with several fans from Japan watching and staying up at a crooked hour for his games.

The Angels have battled mediocrity and shortcomings in the Trout era which have even called for some to trade their asset and build for the future. They won the division in 2014, but didn't win a playoff game as they were swept by the Kansas City Royals. In 2016, the Angels would've been a dead last place team if Trout was not on the team, let alone he carried them with a high wins-above replacement.

Their farm system has been shot down in the past for short term fixes, but this team is now expected to contend for the AL West with the signing of Justin Upton to join the fold.

Baseball in Orange County will be interesting for the first time in four years with Ohtani existing. They may not turn it around overnight, but the future looks good assuming Ohtani develops and can find a rhythm in MLB.

His biggest adjustment will be pitching on four or five days of rest, where in NPB, starting pitchers typically go once a week with pitch count not being a factor. The Angels could also go with a six-man rotation and giving Ohtani an extra day to DH. In an NPB calendar, Mondays are normally of days and he would be the DH from Tuesday to Thursday and sometimes Friday. He would have the day before and after his start as off days.

While going to any team will draw comparisons to his fellow countrymen, Ohtani won't be in one individual's shadow with the Angels. This isn't about Matsui, Ichiro, Darvish, Kenta Maeda, Hideo Nomo or anyone else. This is his story and his time to shine in the big leagues.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Translation: A look at the potential compensation for the loss of Nogami


With the recent loss of Ryoma Nogami in free agency to the Yomiuri Giants, the Lions will get some form of compensation as he is a type B free agent. The Lions can either go with the cash option only, or take cash and an unprotected player from a pool after the Giants choose to protect 28 players.

One writer or columnist went in-depth with the Lions options and formulated a possible scenario coming up with protected players and those who are available. Here is what was written regarding a imaginary protected list and some opinions which were translated:

The introduction speaks of Nogami's stats of going 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA and how he is a type B free agent. Seibu can either take the money or go with money + a player as he is a type B free agent. Foreign players don't need to be protected and cannot be claimed. 

Pitchers:

Protected: 

Tomoyuki Sugano

Masahiko Morifuku

Tetsuya Utsumi

Tappei Tanioka

Kentaro Nishimura

Chiaki Tone

Ryusei Oe

Shimpei Shinohara

Seishu Hatake

Tetsuya Yamaguchi

Kazuto Taguchi

Ryosuke Miyaguni

Seiji Tahara

Nobutaka Imamura

Shun Ikeda

Hayato Takagi

Kota Nakagawa

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Available: 

Shun Yamaguchi

Kan Otake

Toshiya Sugiuchi

Hirotaka Yonahara

Hirokazu Sawamura

Toshiki Sakurai

Hosei Takata

Jen-Lei Liao

Mitsuo Yoshikawa

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Analysis:

With the Lions, left handed pitchers were short of supply in both the rotation and bullpen. Further predictions were made to protect left handed pitchers even more. Nakagawa, Morifuku and Tone are protected as a result. In addition, Utsumi and T. Yamaguchi have been in the bullpen for many years with the Giants. Taguchi and Hatake are obvious candidates to protect.

Meanwhile, Sawamura and Sugiuchi failed to play with the ichi-gun and wouldn't want to return. Yoshikawa and Otake are both available because of their failures last season at the ichi-gun level.

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Catchers:

Protected: 

Seiji Kobayashi

Shingo Usami

Available:

Genki Kawano

Takaya Tanaka

Analysis: 

This season, Ryoji Aikawa and Kazunari Sanematsu both retired. They also drafted four catchers in the 2017 NPB Draft in hoping to revamp this unit.

Kobayashi is the regular starter and Usami provides depth as the backup. Tanaka and Kawano are available with almost no ichi-gun experience. With the Lions having Ginjiro Sumitani, Tomoya Mori and Masatoshi Okada, it's unlikely they'll select a catcher.

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Infielders:

Protected: 

Shinnosuke Abe

Naoaki Yoshikawa

Hayato Sakamoto

Daisuke Nakai

Kazuma Okamoto

Available:

Takayuki Terauchi

Yasuhiro Yamamoto

Harutomo Tsuji

Daiki Masuda

Ryota Wakiya

Takahiro Kakizawa

Ren Wada

Daiki Yoshikawa

Analysis: 

Seibu has Hotaka Yamakawa, Hideto Asamura, Sosuke Genda, Takeya Nakamura and Ernesto Mejia as the main group of infielders at the ichi-gun. Shuta Tonosaki can also play 3B. The Lions depth is all but set with Kyohei Nagae, Nien Ting Wu and Daichi Mizuguchi as reserves. Therefore, it would be difficult to think they would want to acquire an infielder as compensation.

Sakamoto is an obvious starter while Nakai has been playing more. N. Yoshikawa and and Okamoto are both young prospects worth protecting. Abe of course will retire as a legendary Giant.

Meanwhile, there are other young players, but with little experience available. Veterans Terauchi and Wakiya are the only two with significant playing time in the past available.

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Outfield:

Protected:

Daikan Yoh

Hisayoshi Chono

Yoshiyuki Kamei

Shinnosuke Shigenobu

Available:

Itaru Hashimoto

Soichiro Tateoka

Makoto Aoyama

Shingo Ishikawa

Analysis:

Seibu has Takumi Kuriyama, Shogo Akiyama, Yuji Kaneko, Shuta Tonosaki and so on. They also have Shogo Saito, Fumikazu Kimura, Ryo Sakata and others on the bench. They also have Aito Takeda and Shohei Suzuki, both highly touted prospects that they are high on at the farm level. As a result, the odds of acquiring an outfielder will be low.

For the Giants, it's easy to protect Yoh, Chono and Kamei. They could also protect any young future outfielders that they are higher on.

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Personal reaction: 

I really doubt Sawamura would be exposed to the Lions despite the decent tandem of Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero taking the 8th and 9th inning for the Kyojin. Sawamura of course is very disgruntled after the team mishandled his injury situation and he did not play a single ichi-gun game in 2017.

Based on this listing, the writer thinks the Lions will aim for another left handed pitcher and creating a protected list to counter. I disagree with this notion and think the Lions filled this need by drafting Hiromasa Saito in the draft and will likely sign some foreign imports in free agency.

It's clear based on playing with the Giants roster myself, I wouldn't go for any position player as I wouldn't trust any pickup there. It would be hilarious if the Lions picked up Ryota Wakiya again, something they did after losing Yasuyuki Kataoka, but I wouldn't be happy.

Here's my personal list of players I would go for:

1. Hirokazu Sawamura

Sawamura is a proven closer/reliever when healthy and if the Giants found him expendable, I'd pounce on him in a heartbeat. He will be returning from a shoulder injury, but the Lions cold use him once he's back.

2. Toshiki Sakurai

Sakurai being unprotected would also surprise me. He was a former first round pick in 2015 and had a promising preseason in 2016, but an injury right before Opening Day ruined his chances in his rookie year. He's only 24 and would be worth a flyer where he could find a change of scenery as a better solution.

3. Shun Yamaguchi

This is the most controversial player of the list and it's possible the Lions don't want any part in the label, but I feel he could help the Lions for the now by benefiting from a change of scenery. Yamaguchi was one of three prized free agents last offseason by this pitcher has been a flop after one year.

In July, Yamaguchi was drunk and committed some violence and hurting his hand with glass, but he also served his suspension and fine while with the Giants. The Kyojin probably wanted to shop him the moment this news happened, as they're known to want to protect their image. Logically, I think they'd leave him exposed and unprotected where the Giants would be thrilled if he were claimed by the Lions. Violence aside, Yamaguchi's other counter argument is his salary being more expensive, but on the field, he could contribute to the Lions rotation or bullpen right away as long as he doesn't bring baggage.

4. Jen-Lei Liao

Liao was a 7th round pick of the Giants in 2016. at 201 cm (6' 7") and 125 kg (275 lbs), he was the largest player taken in the 2016 NPB Draft in front of Shunta Nakatsuka. As you might recognize by the name, Liao is from Taiwan and doesn't count as a foreigner for roster reasons because he went to high school and university in Japan (like his fellow countrymen Wu/Yoh etc).

He can top 155 kph (96 mph) on the gun as a hard thrower, but is still raw with his command. Liao will be 25 in August, but is worth the flyer if the Lions staff feels they can develop and fix his control/command. Liao also had a brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system. The Lions lack hard throwers minus Nakatsuka and drafted two more in Sho Ito and Kaima Taira.

Adding another player from Taiwan also wouldn't hurt for marketing reasons with a country the franchise has plenty of ties to. Liao is also a cheap option compared to the veteran salaries that Sawamura, Yamaguchi and Otake would have. The odds are also better that the Giants wouldn't protect him as a late pick and having other priorities.

5. Kan Otake

Otake will be 35 in 2018, but he could be a quick fix for the Lions rotation. He isn't flashy, but as a back end starter, the Lions could use depth. In 2017, he had a down season and if the Giants like others in their farm and elsewhere, he could be left open.

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Final thoughts

Taking the cash option would be boring as Nogami would only net ¥ 30 million if they took this path. Last year, Kishi netted ¥180 million from Rakuten as the Eagles had a lesser talented roster. If the Lions went with the player choice, it would net ¥20 million and the player selected. Is it really worth penny pinching for an extra ¥10 million without paying a player? That's the question the Lions will need to decide.

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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Translation: Lions speak on each 2017 draft pick


The Saitama Seibu Lions office made a public statement about each draft pick when profiling them on their website.

Here is the scout's take on each player:

P Hiromasa Saito: 

"He is a 3/4 arm slot pitcher and is expected to contribute right away. His crossfire pitching style is his best weapon."

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OF Manaya Nishikawa: 

"He is a good bat control hitter who hits at a wide angle. Nishikawa is a speedster who can be a regular starter in the future."

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P Sho Ito: 

"His fastball is highly appealing as he has a strong arm. He's capable of being a starter and middle reliever while his best pitch is the fork."

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P Kaima Taira: 

"He is an energetic pitcher with (velocity) that can attract a crowd."

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P Kaito Yoza:

"He is a pitcher with good control and is a sharp submariner. His awareness is strong and he excels at fielding with quickness. Yoza's form is similar to Kazuhisa Makita."

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IF Ryusei Tsunashima: 

"Tsunashima has a strong throw and is a speedster."

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(Ikusei) OF Wataru Takagi: 

"Takagi has good bad control and can hit for extra bases."

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(Ikusei) C Masato Saito: 

"His is a smart and clever catcher with his excellent defensive skills."

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Special thanks to our translator for this piece, who wishes to remain anonymous. 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Report: Ryoma Nogami to sign with the Giants


The Saitama Seibu Lions trend of losing pitchers in free agency continues. Ryoma Nogami and the Yomiuri Giants reached an agreement on Tuesday to a three year contract worth an estimated ¥450 million.

If Nogami were to make ¥150 million in 2018, it would triple his salary from the ¥50 million he made in 2017 with the Lions. The Lions gave Nogami a hard offer after two meetings of negotiation when he filed for free agency. It's easy to say the Giants outbid the Lions with room to spare.

Nogami, 30, was a mainstay in the Lions rotation for majority of his NPB career after being a second round draft pick in 2008 out of the industrial leagues. Last season, he went 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA as a mid-rotation starter.

With the Giants, Nogami will join a mix that includes Tetsuya Utsumi, Kan Otake, Toshiya Sugiuchi and more. The Kyojin will likely lose Miles Mikolas to MLB in free agency and they're looking for a rotation starter to solidify the group behind Kazuto Taguchi and reigning Sawamura award winner Tomoyuki Sugano.

This is the first time the Lions lost a free agent to the Giants since 2015 when Ryota Wakiya signed with them. After 2013, Yasuyuki Kataoka signed with the Giants and the Lions took Wakiya as the free agent compensation choice. Nogami is a type B free agent, meaning the Lions will choose between a larger cash compensation or taking an unprotected player with cash totaling 50% of Nogami's 2017 salary.

The Lions will replace this position from within. In the last three drafts, the Lions have taken a combined 16 pitchers.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Kuo gambled on himself and lost in 2017


Taigen Kaku (Tai-Yuan Kuo) was a legend in the Saitama Seibu Lions golden era and arguably one of the most successful foreign pitchers in NPB history. Unfortunately, Chun-Lin Kuo is nowhere near this level of greatness.

C.L. Kuo, 25, recently had his number changed from 12 (a number T.Y. Kuo once wore) to 69 last week. With all the jokes revolving around 69 in culture, this actually indicates a demotion for an NPB roster as most players who have a high number have a lesser priority. While there are some who keep a higher number or have one on purpose, going from a low to high number is not good for the individual.

When 2017 started, C.L. Kuo did not participate in the Lions spring training camp and instead trained with Taiwan's 2017 World Baseball Classic team in both Taiwan and Australia. While playing for your country isn't wrong, Kuo is still mostly an amateur or unproven player in NPB.

This all backfired when he only recorded two outs and six hits while facing Israel's team made up of fringe MLB talent in his only start. By not training with the Lions and betting on himself for the 2017 WBC, he buried himself in Japan.

Kuo was seen at the team's training facilities in Tokorozawa and practiced, but didn't participate in a single ichi-gun or ni-gun game for that matter recovering from an injury. His salary was cut by 33% from an estimated ¥30 million to ¥20 million for 2018 when both sides reached an agreement.

The Lions were doing just fine without Kuo, going on a 13 game win streak at one point and coming in second place in the Pacific League under new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji. Other pitchers passed Kuo on the depth chart including rookie Katsunori Hirai, Shogo Noda, Kentaro Fukukura and even Yosuke Okamoto. 

By entering 2018, he will have even more competition with rookies Hiromasa Saito, Kaito Yoza and Sho Ito joining the fold. Kuo was viewed as a top amateur when he signed in the fall of 2014 and had a promising career internationally, but it hasn't worked out since joining NPB.

In 2015, Kuo had understandable struggles for a player who never pitched in professional baseball, but there was progress in a handful of starts. It only got worse in 2016 where he was used as a reliever and spot starter. His control continued to fade and his empty 2017 sums up a brutal year.

From a Lions standpoint, Kuo is just a developmental pitcher who has a longshot to make the ichi-gun like an ikusei. He is a low risk option, but Kuo himself must work hard to earn his playing time again.

Kuo hopes to re-write his own legacy with "Kaku" 郭 (The Japanese reading of his name)  no longer being part of his registered name as Kuo will be on his jersey. No more comparisons to Taigen Kaku, but also no more expectations for him to succeed in NPB. His uphill battle only gets tougher from here on out.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Kazuo Matsui returns to the Seibu Lions


The Seibu Lions announced on Friday that they signed Kazuo Matsui to a ¥40 million, one year deal. He will also function as a player/technical coach, which is an added position to the coaching staff.

Matsui, 42, returns to the Lions for the first time since 2003. He had MLB stints with the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros until 2011, where he was with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles through 2017.

With the Lions, he was a consistent .300 hitter and had at least 20 home runs in four seasons. Matsui won a Japan Series with the Eagles in 2013, but his peak season in Sendai was 2014, where he hit .291.

The Lions gave him No. 7, his old number from 1995-2003 as it has been vacant since the start of 2016. While it's unknown what his role will be as a player, he will likely be a spell outfielder and retire a Lion after the 2018 season. He can easily pinch hit if necessary. 

Other notes: 

-The Seibu Lions announced their coaching staff with minor changes to the pitching coaches. Fumiya Nishiguchi was promoted to the ichi-gun to serve alongside Yoshihiro Doi after the late Shinji Mori was lost.

-The Lions officially added two ni-gun pitching coaches with Ming-Chieh Hsu and Kento Sugiyama. Hsu was with the team as a player for nearly a decade and both men have served as pitching coaches in Taiwan's CPBL. 

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